February 27, 2011

No-bake Macaroons

These are little, tasty, healthy, good-for-you, easy-to-make treats. Serious. (Unless you really hate coconut.)

Last week when I make those chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons I thought of my dear friend K, who recently due to some health issues, need to abstain from wheat, eggs and peanuts. Then I thought of this coconut-chocolate balls recipe I used to make some years back, but I had lost the recipe in the shuffles of life. I wanted to recover that recipe so I can make it for my friend K.  I was really happy when I was browsing around the Tropical Traditions website and found this recipe. It seemed very similar to the recipe I had before (as far as memory serves me), so I decided to give it a spin. It was rather easy to make, and they have been going fast, especially with my youngest one. You have no idea how hard I had to conceal my gleeful excitement that she was eating a healthy treat and not knowing it! I reacted with exaggerated horror when she wanted to have more than one (but really was pinching myself with joy)!

I know I will have to make another batch soon. I gave a jar to my friend K and hope to hear her verdict soon. The only adjustment I made to the recipe is reducing the amount of maple syrup slightly, and also substituing some of the maple syrup with coconut nectar (which is gluten-free, dairy-free, and has a very low glycemic index. I must warn you though that their claim of it not having a coconutty flavor is not true as far as my household is concerned. You certainly will discern it so I will caution against using too much of it at a go until you decide how you like the taste). I did use a coconut oil with a pronounced coconut flavor, but if you prefer not to have a strong coconut taste, you can use a coconut oil with mild or little coconut flavor. The expeller-pressed coconut oil from Tropical Traditions has no coconut smell or flavor (I have no affiliation to them, I found this oil for a friend who did not like the coconut smell and taste).

Also, I am thinking when I make the next batch I will sneak in some ground cinnamon for added health benefits! Let me know if you experiment and come up with something else!

No-Bake Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

  • 3 cups unsweetened dried coconut flakes
  • 3/4 cup almond meal
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (note: always measure coconut oil in its liquid state)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together well. Form into small balls using a spoon or cookie scoop and refrigerate until firm.(I pressed the mixture between two spoons.) Makes about 40, depending on the size of balls you make. These macaroons need to be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container. Enjoy!

February 22, 2011

Chocolate-dipped Coconut Macaroons

What to do when life gives you lots of egg whites (left over from making scrumptious custard)?
Make macaroons. -- Even better, make coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate glaze. (And there will be chocolate glaze left over, and later I will tell you what you can do when life smiles on you with excess chocolate glaze!)

This recipe is from the Sono Baking Company Cookbook. It has a wonderful recipe collection, disastrous to your waistline. I made some adaptions since I do not have a double boiler (and has no intention to acquire one). The sea salt adds a subtle savory dimension to the sweet macaroons and the chocolate glaze ties it all together!

Chocolate-dipped Coconut Macaroons
Adapted from The Sono Baking Company Cookbook

  • 1 cup (6 to 7 large) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup (I use the organic one from Wholesome Sweeteners)
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 8 oz unsweetened finely shredded dried coconut
  • 11/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sae salt
  • 1/2 recipe Chocolate Glaze (recipe to follow. Or make a whole recipe, use extra to dip in fresh strawberries, yum!)


  • Put egg whites, sugar, corn syrup and butter into bowl of electric mixer and then set bowl over large pot with one to two inches of simmering water. Whisk mixture constantly, until its temperature reaches 140F to 150F on a candy thermometer (about 15 minutes).
  • Transfer  bowl (wipe condensation dry with a dishcloth) to the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the coconut, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat on low speed until the mixture has cooled, about 10 minutes. The mixture will have coalesced and will no longer be watery.
  • Set oven rack in middle position, and pre-heat oven to 350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking mat.
  • Using 1-inch ice-cream scoop, firmly pack coconut batter into the scoop, pressing the flat side against the side of the bowl to flatten. Arrange the scoops 1 to 2 inches apart on baking sheet. (I find you also need to neaten the bottom edges of the scoops if you want neat and beautiful-looking macaroons. I did not do that and mine had jagged edges, not that we minded that!)
  • Bake until macaroons turn speckled golden brown, 10 to 13 minutes. The macaroons should still be soft and moist in the center.
  • Cool baking sheet on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove with metal spatula and let cool completely on wire rack.
  • If chocolate glaze hardened, heat it in double-boiler until pourable (I used a water-bath, closely watched). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dip macaroons in glaze to your fancy- the original recipe instructed to dip the bottom 1/4-inch of the macaroons, I did the opposite, dipping the tops of the macaroon (trying to create a chocolate-snow-capped mini mountain look) and sometimes half the macaroon for a half-black-half-white effect. Set macaroons, bottoms down, on parchment-lined sheet, and let dry completely (it will take about 3 hours).
Macaroons prior to dipping- guard closely from curious fingers!

Freshly dipped macaroons
See the difference after three hours of drying?

Chocolate Glaze
Chop up 12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and melt over low heat in a small pot. Watch closely, stir often.
Once chocolate is melted, remove from heat and stir in 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil. Stir well till blended. Let stand until cool.

February 20, 2011

Savory Winter Soup

I know, I have titled this blog "My sweet life" but everyone knows that life is not all just sweetness and that sweetness is not the sole thing we taste. There are sour, bitter, savory and spicy, too. It is indeed very good to be able to taste everything, so our taste buds remain alive to all possibilities and can appreciate all the flavors possible by way of comparison and contrasts.

Though winter in Phoenix seldom gets very bitter cold, it is still wonderful to have some nourishing savory soups to enjoy when the temperatures go for a southward dip (especially this past weekend, with overcast skies, rain and the chill). One of my family's absolute favorites is this Slovenian cabbage bacon soup, adapted from a recipe I first saw in the September 2006 issue of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine (how I have missed you, Gourmet!). I have made some adjustments which I feel adds more punch to the soup. Everyone whom I had made this soup for had loved it and asked for the recipe. It is an easy recipe to make too: all in one pot, with just some chopping involved!

Slovenian Cabbage and Bacon Soup

Adapted from Silva Cigoj Arkade Farm, Crnice.
  • 12 oz smoked bacon, preferably nitrate- and nitrite-free
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (I always use more!)
  • 4 large organic red potatoes
  • 8 cups finely chopped cabbage (about 1/2 large head)
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • large handful of italian flat parsley, finely chopped (reserve a tablespoon for sprinkling)
  • 1 (19-0z) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (if I'm feeling virtuous, I make this from scratch)
  • 2 salt-free vegetable boullion cubes
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
    • Cut bacon into bite-sized pieces and cook in large pot over medium heat, stirring often. In the meantime, chop the onions, mince the garlic, peel and dice potatoes and carrots, and chop the cabbage and italian parsley.
    • Just when the bacon pieces begin to get crispy, add chopped onions and cook, stirring often until soft (no additional oil is needed, just cook in rendered bacon grease). Next add the minced garlic and saute quickly.
    • When garlic begins to turn golden (oh the aromas! This is about the time when the girls come trooping through the kitchen, noses bobbing in the air, asking what that mouth-watering smell is?), add the chopped cabbage, diced potatoes and carrots, drained kidney beans and stir around so everything gets coated in some of that bacon grease. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper. Add the water, pop in the bouillon cubes (you can also be diligent and make your vegetable or chicken broth ahead and use that instead) and bring the soup to a boil.
    • Cover partially and continue to simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, until potatoes are just tender. Stir once or twice while waiting impatiently. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired, then stir in parsley and let simmer a minute more.
    • If desired, sprinkle more minced parsley over soup before serving. This soup is great with a crusty bread or buttermilk biscuits, and a big green salad.
    • Enjoy!!

    February 13, 2011

    Rose-Pistachio Shortbread

    Well, what can I say? Except I think I fantasize that I must have been a Moroccan princess in one of my past lives! Because I think I will like to rise and dreamily  wash my face in the morning with rose-scented water, daintily sip some rose tea for breakfast (and through the rest of the day) and then proceed to spend the rest of my day presiding over the cooks as they concoct all sorts of rose-scented and rose-flavored delicacies for me: the royal rose-crazed princess.

    I am not sure when it started or why or how it came about, but I just love the smell of roses. Being able to use it in cooking and baking makes it all the more better. So, when I found rose extract at my local Sur la Table some weeks ago, I grabbed it. And I had been dreaming up ways to use it.

    When Chinese New Year was round the corner, I somehow decided to try a shortbread recipe I found in The Sono Baking Company Cookbook (by John Barricelli). Barricelli wrote that these delicious cookies was one of the easiest to make. I tried it and though it was fairly easy to make, it was a little lacking in flavor for me, and I did not enjoy the sanding sugar around the edges of the cookie. I thought to replace the vanilla extract with rose extract and to use chopped pistachios instead of sanding sugar. The result was a subtle rose flavor in the cookies, and a nice color and crunch around the edges of the cookies.-- that was my version of our Chinese New Year cookie, implying a rosy outlook for the year, with the green of the pistachios heralding spring and prosperity!

    Rose-Pistachio Shortbread


    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup cornstarch
    • 3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar (sift before measuring!)
    • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
    • 1 tsp rose extract
    • 1/2 cup chopped roasted pistachios


    Sift flour together with cornstarch into a medium bowl. Set aside.

    Beat together butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt on medium-high speed in the bowl of a standing mixer, until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scrap down bowl halfway through. Beat in rose extract.
    Switch mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients. Beat just until flour is absorbed.

    Divide dough into two and form each into a rectangle log. Press each side of the log into the chopped pistachios, then wrap in parchment paper, twist ends and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.

    Arrange two oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one log from the refrigerator and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place cookies an inch apart on baking sheet. Bake cookies on upper rack first, rotating baking sheet about two-thirds way through baking time, moving sheet from upper rack to lower rack. Cookies will not really brown, but will develop a rim of gold around the edges, about 12-15 minutes.

    Transfer baking sheet to wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then transfer cookies with spatula from sheet to rack to cool completely. Repeat with second log.


    February 6, 2011

    Auspicious Strawberry Tart

    Lie: It is Chinese New Year and therefore a red strawberry tart is a good and auspicious thing to make and devour eat.

    Truth: I just love the custard in this strawberry tart. OK, so it is just your basic Creme Anglaise, but I dream of it. A lot. I fantasize eating a whole bathtub of it. With or without strawberries.  This pastry cream is just the perfect texture: not overly runny, and not too firm. Just a gentle soft bed for the strawberries to lay on, a sweet delicate barrier that you sink your teeth into before it reaches the flaky crust. What's not to love? My kids' verdict on this one: it's yummy good, mommy! Double thumbs-up! Mmmmmmmmmm... ...

    See the custard peeking from beneath? That pastry cream is what makes this tart so enjoyable (for me).
    Are you seduced now? Be it for auspicious reasons (of course eating red-colored foods for Chinese New Year is a lucky thing to do) or just for the plain love of making something delicious (but not overly complicated), this is the tart for me. Below is the recipe, adapted from Barefoot Contessa's. I make the pastry cream the day before. I love rose-flavored berries and had added rose extract when macerating the strawberries. It adds a subtle, but heady flavor that really adds dimension to the flavors. I also find macerating the strawberries before improves the texture, and gives it a soft, attractive sheen.

    Auspicious Strawberry Tart


    • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
    • 1/4 cup ice water
    • 2 cups Pastry Cream (recipe below)
    • 2 pints whole strawberries, sliced
    • 2 tablespoons sugar + 1 teaspoon rose extract
    • 3 tablespoons shelled pistachios, chopped (optional)


    Mix together the flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
    Put the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the diced butter and pulse until the flour mixture and the butter combine to form a pea-sized mixture. With motor running, add the ice water through the feeding tube and process until the dough comes together.
    Dump on a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
    In the meantime: wash, dry and slice strawberries and then toss with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of rose extract. Toss again from time to time to make sure strawberries evenly absorb the rose flavor.

    Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.

    Roll out the dough and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Run the rolling pin across the top of the pan to cut off excess dough. Butter a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover surface of shell and place foil, buttered side down, on top of dough. Top foil with dried beans or rice. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
    Remove the beans and foil, prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

    Before serving, fill the tart shell with the luscious pastry cream. Carefully remove strawberries from liquid and arrange on top of cream. Sprinkle with pistachios (optional, but adds a nice and pleasing contrasting color and crunch) and serve. Enjoy!

    Pastry Cream:

    • 5 extra-large egg yolks (at room temperature)
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1 1/2 cups scalded milk
    • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 teaspoon Cognac (I sometimes also use amaretto)
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
    Combine egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, or until pale and very thick. Reduce speed to low, and add the cornstarch.

    With the mixer still on low, slowly drizzle the hot milk into the egg mixture. Once incorporated, pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. When the custard slowly comes to a boil and appears to curdle; switch to a whisk and beat vigorously. Cook, whisking constantly, for another 2 minutes; the custard will come together and become very thick, like pudding. Stir in the vanilla, Cognac, butter, and heavy cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold.
    Yield: 2 cups